Educating Girls

1 June 2021

Navigating academic adversity

Navigating academic adversity

Earlier this month the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia hosted the 2021 Summit on Girls’ Education. Presented virtually, this summit included presentations from an impressive array of global leaders in girls’ education. We are fortunate at Ruyton to have previously engaged with a number of these presenters including Professor Ron Ritchhart (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Dr Lisa Damour (author of Untangled which we explored in our 2020 Powerful Parenting Book Club), Madonna King (a previous presenter at Ruyton staff and parent events), and Dr Andrew Martin (University of New South Wales – UNSW).
Over the past four years at Ruyton, our Anxiety to Empowerment Research focus has been key in our ongoing review and development of learning and assessment practices, particularly in relation to motivation, engagement, and the concept of academic anxiety. A primary data source for this research has been the Motivation and Engagement Survey developed by Dr Martin and his team at UNSW, and as part of this project Dr Martin has worked with our research team to make sense of this data and its’ implications.
The concept of ‘Academic Buoyancy’ was first identified by Dr Martin in 2008. Academic Buoyancy refers to the ability of students to successfully deal with the everyday academic stresses of school life, which Martin describes as ‘low level academic adversity’. These might include experiences such as missing an assignment deadline, not achieving the expected result on an assessment, catching up after an absence from school, or an unexpected change of teacher. Students who are academically buoyant are able to successfully handle day-to-day academic challenges, difficulties and setbacks and also demonstrate higher levels of motivation, engagement, wellbeing and achievement. Academic Buoyancy is recognised as a key component of a students’ capacity to thrive and prosper at school and beyond.
Research by Dr Martin and Associate Professor Rebecca Collie at UNSW has revealed that Academic Buoyancy is one of the few areas where gender differences in education do not favour of girls, and that academic setbacks register more and linger longer for girls. The key to building Academic Buoyancy in girls is, not surprisingly, reducing academic anxiety and the related negative emotions. Martin and Collie point out that Academic Buoyancy is not the outcome of exposure to adversity, running counter to ‘inoculation’ theories which hold that exposing students to moderate levels of academic adversity will result in increased academic resilience. Current interventions are focused on wellbeing, including supporting students to implement the ‘buoyancy cycle’. This approach involves teaching students how to recognise academic adversity and to adjust their thinking, behaviour and/or emotion to navigate the adversity. This adjustment helps the student deal with the adversity, and when the student is supported to recognise the benefit of this psycho-behavioural adjustment they will continue to engage in cognitive, behavioural and/or emotional adjustment in response to adversity. Martin and Collie stress that this is relevant in both primary and secondary students. Our roles as educators and parents are to support students in this adjustment of their thinking, behaviour and emotion. Our response to academic performance, identifying and celebrating growth and personal best, and supporting students to face adversity and work through challenges themselves are key to building academic buoyancy in our students. We can also support our students to be mindful of the adversity that may be on the horizon and how they can prepare for this.
Dr Martin and his colleagues are currently embarking on a three-year research study looking specifically at Academic Buoyancy in girls and the impact on educational and career outcomes – research which we will be following closely at Ruyton. Martin also recommends the website as a source of useful resources relating to motivation and engagement, growth and personal best.

Cathryn Furey

Deputy Principal, Director of Learning
Ruyton Girls’ School
May 2021